What does it say when a child rapist is painted as the victim?

[Content note: child sexual abuse, rape culture]

There are many, many horrifying aspects to this case recently heard in the Napier District Court, of a 17-year-old who repeatedly raped a 5-year-old girl then waited six months to confess to his pastor and a further two months to confess to the police.

There’s the fact his lawyer is repeatedly quoted calling him “courageous”. There’s the fact he’ll only serve 4.5 years in prison, which works out to about 11 months per rape. Or the fact the judge said there were “no aggravating features” and even the prosecuting lawyer noted that she “didn’t need medical attention” as though trauma is only real when it’s physically damaging. Or the fact that the defence lawyer blames ~The Internet~ for the rapist’s “distorted” views about sex and not his closed religious community (because anti-sex religious movements never propagate distorted views of sex.)

Or the fact that right there is an article depicting a bunch of men basically agreeing that the rape of a 5-year-old girl isn’t really that big a deal as long as (six months later) you grow a conscience.

But beyond this case, the worst part is this, where – seriously – the defence lawyer is trying to make his client sound more sympathetic by emphasising just how little the justice system could do if he didn’t confess:

He had advised the teen that the Crown would face obstacles in securing convictions against him if it was years before the victim complained, as it would be just a case of “one person’s word against another’s”.

That’s right. Because if the little girl in this case grew up and one day needed to tell someone what had happened, needed the man who raped her five times to answer for his crimes, defence lawyer Bill Calver knows full well that in all likelihood, nothing would happen. And a man who raped a child five times would walk free.

Of course, because he was so courageous in coming forward, he’ll just walk free in 4.5 years – or less – instead. At the latest, he will be out at age 23. Maybe it doesn’t feel this way to him now, but that’s nothing in the grand scheme of your whole life (says the wise and ancient 31-year-old).

It’s unbelievable. And yet so unsurprising.

This is what we mean when we talk about rape culture. We mean the constant downplaying of even the most heinous, deliberate assaults by any excuse necessary. We mean the “common knowledge” that even repeatedly raping a child carries very little consequence – for the rapist. We mean the media’s framing of a story – the courageous rapist, the invisible survivor – which tells survivors, and every woman, that their hurt doesn’t matter and their word isn’t good enough and their rapes won’t be taken seriously.

This is why we’re so angry.

Mils Muliaina, rape culture, and sharpening my pitchfork

The news that a former All Black had been arrested in connection with a sexual assault case did not surprise me in the slightest.

It cannot surprise anyone who pays the slightest bit of attention to professional sports. Whether it’s rugby, league, soccer, the NFL, it’s seems there’s never a week without a player, a group of players, or an entire team being accused, and sometimes convicted, of assault or rape.

There are almost no details of the charges against Muliaina so far. But that hasn’t stopped people rushing to pre-judge the case.

And no, I don’t mean me and my merry band of evil Twitter feminists.

This is the thing with high-profile rape and assault cases: you don’t actually see people saying “oh he definitely did it” (unless, you know, he admits to doing stuff which is quite clearly rape). But you might see people pointing out that this kind of thing happens a lot. And you might see people like me pointing out that the rate of false reports is very low. Or that the public response is usually antagonistic towards victims. And that this antagonism makes it incredibly difficult for other victims to step forward.

We’ll probably say those two words which are a red rag to a misogynist bull, “rape culture” – which is really nothing more than a way of summing up all the above.

We don’t say a thing about Mils Muliaina, whether he’s guilty or innocent.

But we’re obviously the people doing the pre-judging of the case.

Not the people who say the accused is “a gentleman and a family man” but the complainant is “probably a gold-digger”. Not the journalist in the story linked above who talks about what a “great job” Muliaina has done. Not the people who accuse feminists of “getting out their pitchforks”.

Before we even know the slightest detail, the framing has already begun. He’s a hero. No one could possibly believe he’d do it. He’s a great man. Everyone likes him. Pillar of the community. Role model for young men. There’s got to be an explanation for this, and the only credibly one involves him being completely innocent. There are clearly two sides to every story (and we will only discuss his one!)

And the unnamed, unknown complainant is at best written off, and at worst already being castigated as a villain intent on bringing Our Man Mils down.

Maybe this is mistaken identity. Maybe this is a mix-up. Maybe Mils Muliaina is as pure as the driven snow, and maybe this is the incredibly rare case of a malicious false complaint.

It’s far too early, and we know far too little, to say yet.

So why are so many people – people on his side – already jumping to conclusions?

Roastbusters second report: surprising yet no surprise

[Content note: sexual violence, police inaction]

Other bloggers have already posted pretty comprehensive reviews of the second IPCA report into the Roastbusters debacle. As summarised by Danyl at Dim-Post:

Seven different complainants came forward and named same same three attackers, which is supposed to trigger something called a ‘Mass Allegation Investigation’ to address serial abuse by the same offenders or groups of offenders. Instead the police just looked at each case on an individual basis, decided it wasn’t worth prosecuting – because they didn’t understand the damn law – and then went around assuring each other that none of the victims wanted to lay a complaint – which was false – and that officers had talked to the boys and their parents, which none of them ever actually bothered to do.

Idiot/Savant at No Right Turn notes:

“At-risk sexual behaviour, alcohol abuse, and parental supervision” is apparently considered grounds for a CYFS referral in girls, but not boys. That’s a toxic mindset right there.

And through all of this, there’s an obvious question: if the police were so crap at investigating these cases, are they also crap at others? How many other rapists are going free because police just can’t be arsed doing their jobs properly?

And of course all the officers involved have kept their jobs.

Melulater covers the report, its implications for our societal attitudes to sexual violence, and the urgent debate in Parliament yesterday in which many women MPs spoke very well and every male MP except the responsible Minister decided to take a long lunch break.

… as a society, we fail these girls if this report is allowed to languish on a dusty shelf in parliament’s library.  As a society we have to demand action from our law makers and law enforcement to ensure that victims are supported and protected and further harm is not inflicted.

I thoroughly endorse her link to Rockstar Dinosaur Pirate Princess’ illustration of consent using a cup of tea.

The thing that gets me really angry about where this case has gone – beyond the fact that a pack of predatory little shits were allowed to assault people with impunity, beyond the fact their victims will probably never get any kind of justice, beyond the fact that this happens again and again exactly the same way and we never seem to make any progress – is that once again, even in the face of an utterly damning report which criticises the police’s handling of this case at every level … effectively, nothing happens.

Despite the fact that trained, specialist detectives whose one job was to investigate the abuse of children were apparently less capable to do so than anyone who’s watched a half-dozen episodes of Law & Order. Despite the fact that anyone in New Zealand with an internet connection could find the evidence of the young men bragging about illegal activities with a two-minute Googling.

Those cops go on with their lives. We’re left in the dark as to how many other rape and abuse cases were mishandled, how many other bragging predators were not only allowed to walk free, but got a clear message: you will not be punished for your actions. We don’t care what you do to underage girls. They’re not even important enough for us to take notice when they want to make complaints.

The NZ Police’s latest recruitment campaign uses the tagline “Do something extraordinary.” Unfortunately, it seems like it really would be extraordinary for them to do their goddamned jobs and investigate rape properly.

The constant threat

[Content note: sexual assault, victim-blaming, Julian Assange]

With the news that Julian Assange will now be questioned in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he’s taken refuge since 2012 after Swedish prosecutors tried to question him over allegations he sexually assaulted two women, we’re having the same debate we’ve always had. Whether it’s Assange, or Roman Polanski, or another Super Rugby team, it’s the same thing again and again. On the one side, women, feminists and their allies, talking about the attitudes and messages which ring loud in our society: that this woman is untrustworthy, this man is being persecuted, this assault wasn’t really a crime. On the other, typically, a lot of men and their allies saying we’re overreacting, those messages don’t really exist, you’re just playing the victim.

It’s bloody exhausting on the feminists’ side, to be honest. On the one hand there’s trying to explain, simply and above all unemotionally, things which are staring us all right in the face. How else do we explain a country where Tony Veitch still gets work? Where sportsmen accused of rape get sympathetic front covers on “women’s” magazines? Where supporters of Graham Capill sincerely argued that his sexual attacks on girls under the age of 12 weren’t that bad because they didn’t meet the “biblical definition” of rape? Where a survivor is painted as a political opportunist because she criticises the government’s mishandling of her case and happens to vote Green?

Those could just be a hell of a lot of coincidences, I guess; a number of perfectly random cases where the narrative about him versus her versus whose fault was it and who should we believe stacks up identically, every time.

But time and again we see an avalanche of excuses and weasel-words and outright attacks against complainants. In the case of Assange, the complainants can’t be trusted because they’re CIA plants. Assange is only being accused because of political persecution. The ideas that help people to redefine “rape” into meaninglessness – that you can’t really withdraw consent post-penetration, or that consenting to sex one night means you must still want it the next, or that you can’t really be a victim of sexual assault if you don’t report it to the police within five minutes and act appropriately traumatized – are all getting a lot of play.

I’m tired of having this same argument over and over. But more than that, I’m tired of trying to make people see that they’re part of the problem.

On the one hand we have the horrific levels of sexual and family violence in our society. It’s estimated that one in four women in NZ will experience sexual violence or abuse in their lifetimes.

Knowing that is enough to make me, as a woman, worry for my safety. It’s not paranoia when they are out to get you, and it’s not hysteria to be aware of the stark reality of sexual violence.

But beyond the simple statistics there’s the threat.

Susan Brownmiller shocked – and continues to shock – people with her definition of rape, in Against Our Will, as “nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.”

The word “conscious” I quibble with. But “process of intimidation” keeping women “in a state of fear”? There’s something in that.

What else can we call it when every article or post or discussion about sexual violence is met with a rush of the exact same responses from a dozen quarters: that’s not really rape, that was a set-up, it’s her fault, we can’t believe her, he can’t be a rapist?

How is a woman not meant to feel intimidated, threatened, and downright unsafe, when her society makes it very, very clear that the only “just” way to deal with accusations of rape is to distrust and interrogate the victim?

There’s a concept called “microaggressions“. Microaggressions aren’t out-and-out cases of discrimination and oppression. They’re the tiny, needling things that happen every day which emphasise that you’re an outsider, a less-important human being, whether that’s because of your gender or ethnicity etc. They don’t “hurt” in the way that being physically attacked hurts, or “harm” in the way being denied housing or a vote or a job harms. But they are an ever-present reminder of the fact that if real harm were to befall you, your society wouldn’t really care, and would find ways to erase that harm from the record.

These conversations we have, about Assange or Polanski or whoever, these instances where people come together to reiterate all those lies about sexual violence, they’re an ever-present reminder that you could be raped – and it could be by someone you know, in your own home, while you were wearing your muckiest tracksuit, on video – and you would be doubted.

I say I get tired of trying to make people see how they’re part of the problem. When it gets pretty bleak, I find myself wondering if they do see it – they just don’t care. Because they don’t have to. They don’t live under the constant threat, not of real violence, but of the total disregard for your welfare or safety. And they don’t care that their behaviour drives women out of the spaces they inhabit. Some of them see it as a bonus.

I applaud the people who have been fighting in this latest round of the Assange discussion. I haven’t got the spoons to bang my head against that brick wall this time, hoping a few more flakes will shake loose.

Prince Andrew, John Key and implicitly blaming the victim

(Content note: rape, victim-blaming, domestic violence)

The only appropriate response the Prime Minister of New Zealand could have made to questions about the allegations against Prince Andrew is: “No comment.”

But that’s not what he said, for reasons only he can say (though coming a day after he gave David Cameron selfie advice, it’s hard not to wonder why Key’s suddenly desperate to tie his colours to the Rule Britannia mast.)

The thing is, of course you’re pre-judging a situation when you say things like “he’s very well-respected.” That should be irrelevant (and obvious, since he’s a member of the royal family). Of course you’re pre-judging a situation when you say things like “he’s very well-respected … and people will have to put up the case.” The only inference you can take from that statement is that no questions need be asked of Prince Andrew; all questions must be asked of the complainant. No doubt may be expressed about Prince Andrew; all doubt must be focused on the complainant.

Take it outside the context of a rape allegation. You’ve been asked to choose between two types of coffee. The person showing you the coffee says, “I don’t want to influence your decision. Obviously the flat white is very popular.”

Why else would they comment on the flat white if they weren’t trying to influence you? What other purpose can that comment serve?

So John Key was, in fact, pre-judging the allegations made against Prince Andrew. Because he felt the need to re-inforce that Prince Andrew is a good man who is respected and important.

This isn’t unique to Key or the Prince. This is just what happens every time a prominent man gets accused of rape or abuse. When Charles Saatchi publicly choked Nigella Lawson, the same thing happened: “oh, we don’t know what went on, we can’t make assumptions, that’s not fair.”

What was left unspoken: not fair to the man accused of being abusive.

(It wasn’t as bad as it could have been – if Nigella had been a young no-name trophy wife, without her international universal adoration, the photos would probably never have seen the light of day because no one would care.)

“Innocent until proven guilty” is a fine principle to base your criminal justice system on, but the unfortunate, and at this stage in our cultural development I call it deliberate, implication of focusing our whole conversation on his innocence and his rights to defend himself and his well-respected stature is that she is guilty, she has a case to answer, she must be suspect.

With that attitude, it’s no surprise that many rape survivors who’ve been through the process say it felt like they were the ones on trial.